How to Find Local Volunteer Opportunities
Many of us are passionate about wanting to take the opportunity to volunteer and give back to our local community. It’s not always easy to find the best way to get involved with volunteering or to follow through once you’ve decided how you want to help. Luckily, we’re here to help you navigate your way to a rewarding experience.
What inspires you to volunteer?.
“Three years ago, on my 3rd visit to Panajachel, Guatemala, I decided to sponsor a 3 year old girl through Mayan Families so she could attend preschool, get 2 meals per day, a daily vitamin, and learn Spanish in preparation for public school. I I wanted make a difference in [her] life, hoping to give her a chance for an education and a better future.
The desire to make a difference as a volunteer is a personal one. Many volunteers are inspired to give their time to a specific cause or issue because of their own experiences. Others are motivated by a general emotion to get involved, deepen their ties to their community, or simply lift up those less fortunate. It’s important for you to do some brief soul-searching and determine why and how you want to volunteer. Determining which causes you feel strongly about and which skills and resources you can provide will help you find the best local volunteer opportunity to give back.
Finding a cause you’re passionate about—and understanding what the volunteer experience is like working with local organizations aligned with that issue—is crucial. It’s important to understand how and when you’ll be giving your time. You may already feel strongly about a specific cause or have no idea where you want to volunteer. You might have friends, co-workers, or family already volunteering or be the first one in your circle. All of these situations are normal, and there are a wealth of technology- and non-technology-driven ways to find the cause you care about and the experience you’re looking for.
Understand what it means to get involved.
“I have volunteered at two home builds with Homes for our Troops. They were both incredible experiences. They go all out to make sure that they are not only honoring the veteran receiving the house, but also to ensure they are getting a new home that is a quality product, right down to the sod laid in the yard. Outstanding folks to work with and great organization.”
If you know people volunteering, it’s simple—ask them about their experiences! This can be the simplest and most direct way to find a volunteer opportunity at a local nonprofit. If you don’t know anyone, or aren’t close to volunteers who’ve given time to the issues you care about, GreatNonprofits is a great resource. You can search by issue (from Animals to Zika) and region to find community-sourced stories from volunteers in your area. Take the time to speak to people, read stories, and find a cause and experience that resonate with you. You may even find a specific organization you want to volunteer with.
Once you’ve narrowed down the cause or organization you want to work with, it’s important to think about your personal ability to give. This is a moment you need to be truthful with yourself. You might be busy with work and family and not have a lot of free time to volunteer (sound familiar?). You might have a lot of free time, or have specific skills or training that could help a nonprofit’s mission. Think about what you really can offer as a volunteer, and be honest with yourself! There are options for everyone.
Find in-person or virtual opportunities to volunteer
Virtual volunteering (even for local organizations!) is a great option for those who don’t have the time to work in person, or want to give back in a different way. Organizations like Catchafire and Idealist can help you map your skills to local organizations who need you as a volunteer—and you can work on your own schedule. There are abundant opportunities for volunteers with design, marketing, business, and technology (we’re looking at you, Silicon Valley residents) skills to help nonprofits grow and run more effectively. You can search by cause/issue, location, and skill set so you can find a meaningful opportunity to make a difference.
Many of us are looking for a more personal experience and want to connect directly with individuals and organizations in our community. If you have the time and know you want to volunteer in person with a local nonprofit, VolunteerMatch is a great resource to understand what organizations need from you and the next steps for you to get involved.
Stay connected to volunteering
“The Center for Biological Diversity is on it! They keep me informed about critical issues and make it easy for me to take action. It’s easy to share links with Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter as well.”
Once you’ve got your heart set on the way you want to volunteer, it’s important to help yourself follow through and create a regular habit of giving that works for your life. Facebook can be a great tool here to help you stay engaged with the nonprofits and issues you’re passionate about. Many nonprofits use their Facebook pages to regularly post about stories, upcoming events, or even thank volunteers like you. Following organizations you’ve volunteered for or want to work with will keep you in the loop and help you deepen your ties to that community. Many nonprofits also have email lists or other ways of keeping volunteers updated—dive in! Technology can provide you with a valuable way to stay connected and engaged as a volunteer. The more you can make engaging with the cause and nonprofits you care about a regular part of your life, the more you’ll find ways to give.
Share your experiences with us!
We hope you’ve learned more about the process of finding a local volunteer opportunity, but know we don’t have all the answers! If you’ve found a mind-set, experience, or organization that’s helped you, we want to know about it! Share away in the comments.